TreePeople Improving Los Angeles' Environment

As a boy growing up in Los Angeles, TreePeople President Andy Lipkis would breathe in steam to soothe his lungs from the searing burn caused by the city’s air pollution. At age 15, Lipkis began planting trees to rehabilitate smog and fire-damaged forests, and in 1973, he founded TreePeople, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving Los Angeles’ air quality through tree planting.

Almost 40 years later, this internationally recognized organization has planted more than 2 million trees in the Los Angeles basin. Here, Lipkis schools us on tree power:

Trees create shade: “Pollutants like smog actually multiply when hit with heat,” Lipkis says. Thus, the longer smog is exposed to high temperatures, the more is produced. Add this to the fact that summer temperatures in Los Angeles rise by 10 - 12 degrees due to sunlight hitting surfaces like asphalt and concrete, and you have a smog layer that thickens as winds blow it east towards the Inland Empire.

Trees help combat this pollution cloud by creating shade, which lowers urban temperatures and decreases the amount of pollution in the air. Trees also clean the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

Trees create community: “Our streets can be very harsh,” Lipkis says. “Planting trees creates pedestrian-friendly spaces by shading and cooling the sidewalks, encouraging more people to walk."

Plant smart: Successful tree planting means putting the right tree in the right spot the right way. Planting on east, south and west facing building faces creates shade that keeps homes cool and decreases dependency on air conditioners, Lipkis says.

Not all trees are created equal: “Palm trees don’t contribute a lot aside from post card photos,” says Lipkis. “You really want trees that suck out pollutants. California’s native sycamores have furry leaves that scrub particles out of the air. Fruit trees do double duty by providing shade and food.”

Live green: Compost. Read the newspaper online. Plant a garden. Pack a lunch with reusable utensils. Unplug appliances when they’re not being used. Carpool. Ride a bike.

Park in the shade: New research shows that even cars that are not running create smog when left sitting in the sun, as heat causes gas vapor leaks. A U.S. Forest Service report suggests that as much as 30% of LA smog may be coming from parked cars. Parking in the shade when possible cuts down on emissions.

Volunteer: “Our work isn’t just slamming trees into the ground,” Lipkis says, “If you want trees to live, it has to be the community that keeps them alive and protected.”

TreePeople volunteer opportunities include planting and caring for trees, working at the group’s Coldwater Canyon headquarters or getting involved in Citizen Forestry. This program turns asphalt dominated urban areas into tree-rich communities through sustainable planting. The program recently revamped the San Fernando Valley’s Elmer Avenue, turning a tree-barren area commonly hit by floods into a sustainable, tree-based ecosystem supported by a united community of local citizens.

“We’re here to ensure that you succeed,” Lipkis says of the program. “If you can only get 10 neighbors together and you need 150 to plant your trees, TreePeople will come with trucks and supplies and help.”

Tree People, 12601 Mulholland Drive, at Franklin Canyon Drive, (818-753-4600 or Photo Courtesy of TreePeople